Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book Review: “The Empress Capsule” by R.K. Thorne

The Empress Capsule by R.K. Thorne

Kael is a mercenary with little to look forward to in life. His biological augmentations turned off his ability to desire, and his lifelong sentence to a life as a door guard seems a dead end. Ryu is the commander of the starship Audacity and needs to complete her life’s mission of stopping rogue biotech scientists from ruining people’s lives. They get thrown together when Kael is captured(ish) by Ryu on one of her missions. Unbeknownst to her–or Kael–he’s got a capsule with a scientific surprise that could be world-shattering.

The plot has a great setup and solid characters. Kael and Ryu are the stars, but even side characters like the AI, other members of the Audacity, and baddies get time to show off some interesting moments. The book has action scenes punctuated throughout, but at its core feels more a story of Kael and Ryu finding themselves than anything else. Of course, that capsule has some deep import throughout and it drives the plot, at least in part.

I appreciated how Thorne developed Kael’s backstory, his struggling with biotech, and his own power. Ryu also is interesting enough as she tries to balance her total commitment to her mission with the fact that she’s human after all.

There’s so much sexual tension in the story. I get that the characters don’t necessarily make sense for immediately falling in love and getting together, but there are perhaps a few too many scenes in each individual’s head that are basically “Did she/he mean that they might like me?” Like, just kiss and stop second guessing the kiss! You’re clearly smitten! I’m glad Thorne didn’t go for a cheap gimme at the end of the novel to make up for this, but that also means the tension might be dragged out for another book (or more?).

The action scenes that are interspersed throughout the book are well-done, but I think may not have been as frequent or lengthy as I’d have liked. I should note this is a rare complaint for me, because I like to get to the meat of the plot, but there were a couple times when I thought it would have been nice to have more description of how exactly a firefight was playing out or what, exactly made someone’s armor so expensive and powerful. The plot and budding romance, in other words, dominates the book far more than the sci-fi and action elements. I think I’d have liked it to be more balanced, with a little bit less sexual tension and more action and adventure. That said, I enjoyed the book front to back, never really feeling like it slowed down too much or felt rudderless.

One of the final reveals can’t really be explored without major spoilers, but I appreciated that the motivations behind some of the major players in the book weren’t as conventional as they almost seemed to be. Thorne does a great job setting up the story for the next book without it feeling like a total cliffhanger that leaves readers hanging.

I was given an audio version of the book, and the narrator does a pretty fabulous job. I tend to listen to books at a very fast speed, and the narrator came through clearly all the way through the book. I didn’t run into any sound balancing issues, either, and individual characters were distinctive in flavor. I recommend the audio version if you like those.

The Empress Capsule is a fun space adventure with several intriguing characters, some solid action scenes, and a lurking romance. It reminded me of some of my favorite science fiction. I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

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I was provided a review copy of the book by the author


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